Liberia: Police Power Won’t Curb COVID-19! Community Mobilization & Social Behavior Change Communications Will Do

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SINCE PRESIDENT George Weah extended the State of Emergency on Monday, June 22 and stressed the re-enforcement of health protocols in order to curb the spread of Covid-19, officers of Liberia’s Joint Security have been anxious – some of them intimidating passengers and pedestrians in the name of implementing the government’s “wearing nose mask” mandate.

IN SOME INCIDENTS, people driving alone in their private cars have been ordered to wear nose mask. These commuters are parked and delayed because officers insisted said persons should wear mask even if that person is driving alone. This is ridiculous and a sheer act of ignorance on the part of these officers. Maybe, it is an intent to intimidate peaceful people who themselves are also suffering the impact of the pandemic.

HOW DO YOU expect a person driving alone to use a nose mask? We think many police officers or other security officers implementing the health protocols lack the common understanding about the significance of using facial covering as a means of curbing the spread of Covid-19. Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia MUST ensure these officers understand the significance of using nose and mouth covering.

PUBLIC HEALTH experts have recommended the use of nose and mouth covering by a person, who is among other people outside of your home. Or, by a person who is sick or catering to an infected person. For the use of nose mask in public, it is because you do not know whether or not the other people around you are infected with the virus since some people are asymptomatic – people who have the virus but showing no signs or symptoms.

IT MAKES NO SENSE to enforce the wearing of nose mask upon a person driving alone or along with his wife or children. However, it makes sense for the police to enforce the wearing of nose and mouth masks in crowded areas like Red Light or Duala Markets, where social distancing is being gravely violated and the use of nose mask ignored. They lack the capacity to do this, simple!

WE THINK IF THIs intimidating action of the police and other members of the joint security force continues unabated, it may adversely affect the social behavior change of people adopting a new life style in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

WE THINK, the use of iron hand by security forces is detrimental and might undercut the gains made by social and health workers in convincing thousands of Liberians to follow the preventive measures. To keep this afloat as we do more testing and isolation of our compatriots who have contracted the virus, we MUST convince even those who are in denial to accept that the virus is real and that they should follow the preventive measures. We cannot do this by the show of force and use of police power. This State of Emergency is not to stop an arm insurgency, it is meant to defeat Covid-19 and we cannot do this by showing force of powers.

THE FIRST COUPLE of weeks of the State of Emergency declared by the President at the start of the outbreak witnessed several incidents of security forces brutality against peaceful citizens. Several women and children were beaten and in one dreadful incident in the populated slum community of West Point, a baby was severely burned with hot water when police officers were enforcing the lock down. The baby subsequently died as a result of the burns. In another incident in Grand Gedeh County, a woman reportedly lost her sight when officers of the AFL were enforcing the lock down.

THOSE WERE incidents that beclouded the government’s initial efforts to curb the contagion by exacerbating public’s misperception about the virus. At this time of the pandemic when the government needs the support of every citizen to form part of the national response, we need a Joint security that will be people-centric and understand how to get the communities involved. We do not need a Charles Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit styled enforcement of the health measures. Officers of the law have to be friendly and see the citizens as the ones they signed to serve and protect and not to intimidate and brutalize under the guise of enforcing lockdown or health protocol.

IT IS FOOLHARDY to hold that brutalizing and imitating peaceful citizens will influence their action toward curbing the spread of the virus. We think it will be a grave mishap to conceive that only tight security enforcement would flatten our curve. We think the joint security must adopt a new approach from a social behavior change context. This, we know, cannot be done without the help of MOH and NPHIL and the massive involvement of the communities across the country.

WE SUGGEST that community engagement and a meticulous social behavior change approach must be at the crux of all responses against the pandemic. This will lure people into the fight against COVID-19 and then like the triumph over Ebola we will succeed over COVID-19.

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